I own my bias. I think education can fix just about everything. I believe in self-empowerment, the American dream and responsibility. Before I spent 40 minutes watching a new documentary called Spent, I thought I knew about the unbanked.
I was right in my assumptions. And boy was I wrong.
I was right in thinking many families are one diagnosis away from financial instability. Cancer, degenerative diseases...I am aware that they can wipe out a career and burn through finances.
I was wrong in thinking pluck and a degree can fix it all.
Spent spends time with four families who live outside of the world of banking. They make due with (very inconveniently) paying for life in cash, surviving on pay day loans, and when things get really horrible, pawning treasures or getting title loans on cars. In total, this particular American populations spends--get ready for it--$89 billion in fees on the interest from these alternative financial services.
I was not wrong in my belief that our unaffordable medical system and unmanageable social safety network is the cause for some of the 70 million people living in this world, what I was not prepared for were the stories from Debbie and Tiffany. Two bright, hard working college graduates barely getting by. I thought a degree was like a bullet-proof vest against financial ruin.
Tiffany has three degrees! That's a lot of school work and smarts. She picked a "safe" career (nursing) and was living the dream with a fine car and $100K in her 401K. She took time off to care for her ill mother and was never able to jump back onto her upwardly mobile path.
It wasn't illness that got Debbie. It was dreaming too big. Debbie is a first generation college graduate and a fantastic handbag designer (check out www.debil.us). As a fashionista, I can tell you her work is excellent and admirable. As a businesswoman, I would say her career is one of the most scary I could imaging. She has to deal with huge outlays of cash to build her of inventory. A single bag can cost more than $100 to produce; not to mention the hours of work hunting down materials, crafting bags and then trotting them to boutiques that have to be put in. When you can't get a small business loan to cover the productions costs, your dreams have to be deferred so the big guns like Kate Spade and Coach who are a safer bet can easily get ahead.
You just want to shake the banker that turned Debbie down after the American taxpayers bailed out the financial system. I want Debbie to have access to cheap money to build a business. Now she scrapes and saves and carries wads of cash around Philadelphia to source materials.
The stories are fabulously interwoven and deftly directed by Derek Doneen. Davis Guggenheim, director and producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, and It Might Get Loud, tapped Derek to tell the tale and produced the film. Tyler Perry lends his voice and gravitas to the project. Tyler overcame massive financial challenges of his own before his film successes. He knows the world of which he speaks narrates.
If you think the ubiquitous payday loan services and pawnshops are servicing just those in the poorest corners of our country I hope you'll join me in opening your eyes. This particular business is booming. And they are dragging down not just poor families with usurious fees. This is a educated, middle class problem as much as it is a poor person's problem. It is a problem of those unable to work as well as being a problem for those with the ambition and talent to found a company. In short, it's a problem for all of us.
To kick off the conversation, Amex invited Arianna Huffington to lead a post-screening Q & A with Derek, Tyler and Dan Schulman (Group President of Enterprise Growth at American Express). Arianna delved into the motivations behind the film and the fixes.
Since I am a social media junkie, I was following along with @TylerPerry on twitter before the event. His tweet caught me off guard. So I asked him about it. And I got the full story.
One of the most noteworthy items: Amex made the film free by underwriting it for YouTube audiences. As a corporation, they worked with the production team to make sure distribution could reach a mass audience. Bravo.
See the movie free on YouTube:
A final note, thank you to American Express Serve for inviting me to the screening. Serve is a full service reloadable prepaid account that offers the ability to add cash for free at the register across 19,500 Walmart, CVS/pharmacy® stores and participating 7‑ELEVEN® locations, Direct Deposit, free ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 ATMs5, online bill pay, mobile check capture3, personal financial management tools, and a low $1 monthly fee that can be waived with Direct Deposit6. Learn more here: www.serve.com.
This is not a sponsored post.